Former state Sen. Alex X. Mooney may have lost his re-election bid in November, but as chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, he's seeing a variety of positive signs for the state GOP.
Mr. Mooney said a petition drive to overturn legislation that would allow some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition shows that Maryland Republicans are making progress in a state where Democrats outnumber them by a 2-1 margin.
Supporters of the petition drive turned in their final signatures on Thursday, and they say they're confident they have enough to put the legislation on the ballot in November 2012. State and local election boards have until July 22 to validate them.
The last time a petition drive led to a referendum was in 1992, when Maryland's abortion law was challenged.
Mr. Mooney said a successful drive would show skeptics that enough signatures can be gathered to challenge legislation.
"It's just not been done, so it's basically been removed from the political calculus in Maryland," Mr. Mooney said. "Well, if this is successful this year, it puts it back in."
Mr. Mooney, 40, represented parts of Frederick and Washington counties. Following his loss to Democrat Ronald N. Young, the Frederick resident became state party chairman in December. He was chosen by a majority of Republican Central Committee members to fill the unpaid position. Mr. Mooney, who has worked as executive director of the National Journalism Center in Washington for seven years, also recently started a Sunday afternoon radio program on WFMD in Frederick.
Mr. Mooney said another sign of success is that Maryland has drawn appearances by Republican candidates for president. Newt Gingrich appeared last month at the party's annual Red, White and Blue fundraising dinner, which raised an estimated $45,000.
Mr. Mooney also is quick to note that in addition to gaining Maryland's 1st District congressional seat and six seats in the House of Delegates, when local government offices are included, Republicans picked up a net gain of 40 seats in November.
"Those are good folks to run for higher office in the future," Mr. Mooney said.
Mr. Mooney also underscored that Republicans came close to winning in a handful of other races in the House of Delegates. He specifically pointed to District 34B in Cecil County, where Republican Ted Patterson lost by 397 votes even though he had just $7,000 in campaign funding and entered the race late.
"We shouldn't have lost that," Mr. Mooney said. "We needed a candidate to start running earlier and a candidate who believes in raising money."
To help new candidates, Mr. Mooney said he wants to encourage people to begin campaigning and raising money sooner. He also said he thinks the state party can provide important advice, such as steering candidates to committed campaign managers and providing polling information so new candidates can better plan strategy.
Republicans did lose two seats in the state Senate despite a very strong year for the GOP in other parts of the country. However, Mr. Mooney said there were a handful of close races in the state Senate that could have shifted to Republicans, and candidates who came close to reaching the two chambers have expressed interest in trying again.
Mr. Mooney lost his race for a fourth term by 1,044 votes. He noted that he led on Election Day by 200 votes but lost because of early voting and absentee and provisional ballots.
"The one thing I learned is we definitely have to have a better system for the early-voting and absentee-voting programs," Mr. Mooney said.
While Maryland Republicans have largely opposed early voting, Mr. Mooney said it's time the GOP comes to terms with its existence in Maryland and encourage Republican voters to participate.
"We are leaving some votes on the table," he said.
Another development Mr. Mooney views as positive for the party is the establishment of new conservative groups. As an example, he mentioned a group called Change Maryland, which was established by Larry Hogan, a Cabinet member in former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration. The group's website says it's "fighting to bring fiscal restraint and common sense to Annapolis."
Mr. Mooney said he doesn't believe the party's image will be hurt by the indictments this month of two Ehrlich political operatives, Paul Schurick and Julius Henson, for allegedly using robocalls to try to suppress voter turnout in two large black jurisdictions.
Financially, Mr. Mooney said the party is paying its bills but it hasn't been easy in a non-election year.
"I think there is some fatigue from the last year, too," he said. "People gave a lot last year, so it's been tough. It's been tougher than I expected, frankly, but we're holding on."
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